Oboe Embouchure Tips

April 29th, 2013 by

Oboe embouchure can be a tricky subject to discuss. There are many different schools of thought, and most players are highly opinionated on the subject.  However, a fundamental oboe embouchure does not have to be complicated.  Here is a simple method for forming an embouchure appropriate for American oboe playing.  A mirror is quite handy to make sure you are making the correct facial movements.

My preferred method of forming a beginning embouchure is to say the following syllables: “Ooh, aah, awm.”  I take a few seconds on each syllable and move smoothly from one syllable to the next.

1. With “Ooh,” my lips move out into a puckered position, as in a kiss.

2. Then I move to “Aah,” which opens the jaw and the lips, but maintains a rounded mouth shape.

3. “Awm” is the final syllable; at this point the jaw stays open, the lips close back into a puckered position while moving back between the teeth.

Go through these syllables a few times without the reed.  Then, place the reed on the lower lip, with the tip at the line between the outside (dry) and inside (wet) parts of the lip.  The reed stays planted at this point for forming the embouchure.  Then go through the syllables “Ooh, aah, awm” with the reed.

The final embouchure can be inspected against the following criteria (mirror time!):

1. The lips should be puckered but drawn between the teeth slightly.

2. Avoid folding your lips over your teeth and biting, as this embouchure will not seal as well around the reed and your pitch will be quite unstable, usually sharp.

3. Your chin should be pulled down and flat; if your chin is wrinkled, you may have too much of the lower lip in contact with the reed.

4. Your jaw should be relaxed and open (in the “Aah” position) with the lips holding the reed, not the teeth.  Again, watch for biting.

Watch if you are drawing the reed into his mouth during the “awm” syllable, as I find most beginning players believe that more reed in the mouth means more control.  The opposite is actually more accurate.  The reed is thinnest (and therefore, easier to manipulate) at the very tip.  So, this is where you want your lips to be located in order to have maximum ease and control in the embouchure.  Do not set the reed on the lips at the thread.  Your embouchure will have no effect on the reed at all at this point.

Other ways to mentally picture the oboe embouchure are to say “eee” with your tongue and “ooh” with the lips (as in the French “tu”).  A whistle shape of the lips turned inwards is also a good example.

I definitely do not take credit for coming up with this embouchure method.  One of my teachers, Anna Mattix, who plays English horn in the Buffalo Philharmonic, taught me this exercise in my undergraduate pedagogy class.  I hope you all find it as helpful as I do!

About

Steven plays both oboe and English horn with the Chippewa Valley Symphony and Eau Claire Chamber Orchestras, both based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He holds a masters degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and dual bachelors degrees in oboe performance and biology from DePauw University. His major teachers include Peter Cooper, Anna Mattix, Christa Garvey, and Leonid Sirotkin.

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I definitely plan to send my oboe to the repair techs at MMI in the future. I don't think my oboe has played this well since I've purchased it!